The importance of exercise

It’s easy to understand the links between exercise and bodily health. You can see muscles grow, or – if you’re a scientist – slice out a tiny sample of muscle and measure the molecular changes triggered by your workout.

In contrast, it’s not intuitively obvious why or how lifting weights or going for a bike ride should boost brain health. But as evidence of the strong links between physical activity and brain function keeps piling up, scientists are finding new ways of peering into the brain to unravel the mechanisms – and they’re discovering that exercise has more ways of improving your neural wiring than previously suspected.

The latest finding, published this week in the journal Cell Reports by researchers at the Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa, is that exercise helps kick-start a repair process that strengthens existing brain connections, in part by fixing the myelin “insulation” that protects nerve fibres in the brain. That’s particularly intriguing because myelin damage is a hallmark of certain brain diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

The study, led by senior author David Picketts and his former doctoral student Matías Alvarez-Saavedra, involved mice that were genetically modified to have a brain condition called cerebellar ataxia that disrupted their balance and movement. These mice typically lived for only 25 to 40 days – unless they were given access to an exercise wheel.

“We found that exercise could help these animals survive,” explains Picketts. The running mice lived for more than a year, and showed other signs of brain recovery such as improved balance. Examining the brains of the exercising mice showed that neurons in the damaged region had more myelin insulation.

The key difference? A protein called VGF, one of many molecules produced throughout the brain and body during exercise (the name stands for … nothing – it’s “non-acronymic”). When the researchers used a non-replicating virus to inject VGF into the bloodstream of non-exercising mice, these mice also lived longer and had signs of myelin repair in their brains.


This is great information, thanks for sharing!

Thanks. Where do you get vgf from

Hi Jacob,

The article I posted was an excerpt from the Toronto Globe and Mail.

It appears that the vgf can be synthesized although I do not pretend to understand the process. These experiments were carried out in mice and might not produce the same result in humans, It is also unclear to me that the VGF is the only the factor that produced the improvement.
I would discuss this article with your neurologist; it may be that if sufficient study is done human trials might eventually follow.

What has worked for me is regular exercise to the extent of my mobility which consists of weight training ever second day for one and one half to two hours and a 6 km. walk using a rollator every second day. The brain is more plastic than previously thought and since using the rolllator regularly I have noticed significant improvement in both balance and posture. I started using one about 8 months ago when my ataxia became problematic (I went from walking without assistance to having to use a claw foot cane around the house and the rollator out of doors. I now can walk freely around the house without assistance and can use the cane to walk out of doors around town. I still need the rollator for long distances however I used to have difficulty on downslopes which I no longer do and my 6km. speed has increased from an hour and a half or more to one hour.

I can only assume that walking with the rollator is training my brain to overcome the deficits created by ataxia; at first the improvements were transitory lasting several hours but now they are ongoing although they would probably deteriorate without continued exercise… There are no doubt limits to what can be achieved and I don’t know if I will be able to walk freely anywhere without support nor do I know when or if my ataxia will progress. For the time being I am grateful for my improvement and can still play golf when walking the course, first with a four wheel push cart which is similar to a walker, and now with. a pull cart which gives me sufficient guidance to keep from falling over.

I wish you well in

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There’s little doubt that exercise is often considered the best therapy🙂 Although most of us might say this is often easier said than done.

I seemed able to hold stiffness at bay for several years after I was diagnosed, not by doing any specific exercise but just by keeping active as much as possible🙂

For me, sitting still is the best I can hope to feel but I’m not doing myself any favours. Finding a happy medium is difficult. My Cognitive issues and vestibular issues are less challenging when sitting, so I tend to do it far too much.

Outdoors, I use a walking stick and occasionally a rollator. The most freedom I experience is by pushing a trolley in the supermarket🙂 The stability clears my mind, and grounds me. For some reason, my particular rollator no longer has the same effect, I’m wondering if this is because it’s actually too lightweight🤔


I have been lucky; very late stage ataxia with no noticeable progression two years after diagnosis and my problem is largely vestibular.

I lift weights and walk 6km (or golf) on alternate days walking the course with the help of a push cart which acts not unlike a rollator.

I reluctantly purchased a rollator a year ago and found over time that my vestibular problems improved dramatically to the point where I seldom used it. I thought I had retrained my nerural pathways and probably did to a point however after a few months of not using the rollator my vestibular problems started to return. I am using it regularly again and am regaining the improvement that I had lost so it may be that continual exercise with a rollator is what people like me require.

I used several rollators at the local YMCA and found them all to be unsuitable as they were designed to provide support rather than guidance and distorted my posture when using them. I found a Swedish manufactured model called a Volaris (they are only available on line) and it has suspension so I can walk over uneven ground. It Is also designed to walk inside providing me with the guidance I need but without distorting my posture.

Mine weighs around 19 lbs. but I don’t think it is the weight but rather the design that works for me. You may find this rollator to be useful. They have distributors both in North America, in Europe and in other countries. You can find them through a google search.

One way to test your current rollator would be to put weight into the basket and see if that works. It it doesn’t it’s probably the design.

I hopes this helps.

Thanks for the helpful info👍
Like many of us, it wasn’t an easy transition graduating from a walking stick to a rollator, I was determined to find the least ‘medical’ looking one😏

That’s why I chose ‘Let’s go out’ by Trust, and at first I was very pleased with it, particularly in shops, it’s lightweight and easily manoeuvrable. Most importantly, it has a seat🙂and a useful bag. I thought it was useful until I had to bend down to hook it on, then vertigo kicked in and I abandoned the bag😏

Determined to get some exercise, I went for a walk where I live, which is a semi rural area. Although flat, the footpaths have a camber which slopes down to the road, they’ve been patched many times due to house renovations and tree roots aren’t uncommon🙄

I didn’t get far before the vibration from the rollator affected my stability, I started to feel horribly disorientated. So much so, that my husband pushed the rollator, and I tottered behind with my walking stick😑

Because of the vibration, it seems large air pressured wheels would be an advantage. Another rollator I considered was by Trionic, as it happens they have one specifically for golfers😉

Something else that caught my fancy when thinking about exercise, the Alinker :slightly_smiling_face: But, at the moment I’m put off by the price​:flushed:xB


I checked out the rollators you mention and they all appear to be above average in design and in build quality.

All models seem to have compensatory factors for rough terrain, although the Alinker does say it is best on smooth surfaces. The rollator I use (Volaris) has independent suspension on each side so the wheels remain in contact with the ground with surprisingly little feedback. I also live in a semi-rural area and walk on gravel road shoulders, asphalt, high grass, and through ungroomed woodland trails without difficulty. The Volaris does not navigate snow very well which tends to aggregate around the wheels keeping them from rolling freely.

It is interesting to see that the most advanced rollators are of Swedish design - mine is actually manufactured there and the build quality is exceptional.

My particular needs are:
-guidance, not support (one finger on each handle is sufficient although I don’ recommend this because it can compromise safety.
-ability to navigate uneven surfaces and rough terrain
-the ability to walk within the unit thus maintaining posture and gait

The Volaris meets all of these needs and with the exception of guidance (they all seem to feel that people using rollators require support) explain these features clearly on their web-site whereas the others do not. That’s not to say other rollators are not as good or better but just more difficult to assess for particular needs because of lack of information on their web-sites.

I found that after using a rollator regularly my situation improved to the point that I seldom used it. I though I had retrained my neural pathways and perhaps had although I started to regress after about two or three months on non-use. I am using it regularly again and regaining the progress I had lost but it seems I will have to practice with the rollator regularly to maintain or improve my mobility.

I hope you find a suitable unit that will meet your needs.

I have found that exercising is also important. When I sit in my wheelchair, I march in place. That helps The circulation in my feet. My caregiver is very helpful and getting me up and moving around each day. My problem is right now I’m not active enough and need more exercise.i’m going for an evaluation at a local rehab facility next month. I could use additional outpatient PT and OT.


I couldn’t agree more.

We all have to exercise to the limit of our capabilities. I found that when I started to use a walker my balance and gait improved dramatically, at first lasting only a few hours, and then after several months permanently (or so I believed). I thought that I had trained my neural pathways to compensate for any deficit however after a few months the gains I had made started to disappear.

I have resumed using the walker regularly again and the gains I had made are returning. I realize however that I am going to have to exercise regularly with the walker whether I think I need it or not.

I hope the rehab facility helps. I see an PT every six weeks to check my balance, gait and posture. She has helped me to always be conscious of these things and has given me some specific exercises that help.

Best wishes

I definitely can’t stress enough how important stretching is for me.i think im slowing the progression because Ataxia has to keep moving or else it wastes you away.

Thanks, I couldn’t agree more.

I think when walking/exercising in public, we often concern ourselves with what others may think. I used to ride a recumbent bike on our local trail system, and heard all kinds of downgrading comments from passing folks.
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From “lazy man’s bike” to “too many pizzas huh?” I managed to soldier on, however, I know how humiliating it can be. I felt like wearing a sign that said I am disabled and can’t ride a normal bike
Now I ride this indoors where I cant be seen in public. The important thing is I am still exercising. So important, not only for brain function, but cardiovascular and keeping the body going.
I miss my outdoor bike.

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A few years ago I persuaded my husband that it would be a good idea to buy something to exercise on indoors. We finally compromised on a treadmill. It seemed a good idea at the time because I wasn’t walking much outdoors, and as hutchy says we need to keep moving :slightly_smiling_face:

As it turns out I opted for the wrong kind of exercise for me :smirk: It doesn’t motivate me, I think that’s the real reason I don’t want to use it.

Finding a type of exercise that motivates, as well as being manageable, is a bonus :slightly_smiling_face: But, in the meantime, I’m rapidly realising that I haven’t done myself any favour by cold shouldering the treadmill. It’s about time we became reacquainted :wink: xB

Sometimes it is easier to stay motivated if you are working out with others. The YMCA I go to has a noticeable minority of members with various mobility problems and it is hard to say if I am the only one with Ataxia although this is likely. Many favour working out in the pool. Others lift weights, use treadmills or rowing machines to the extent of their ability. The particular club I go to even has a walking class on a indoor track for those with mobility problems and they provide walkers for use during classes.

I don’t know if you have any similar facilities nearby but if so it’s worth looking into.

Good luck with your programme; I am sure that any exercise within your limitations will show positive results.

best wishes


:slightly_smiling_face: Thank you for the information, this may also be helpful to others here. I’ve never heard of an indoor walking track :+1::slightly_smiling_face:xB

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thank you very and very much for your help and for these posts, i found some really helpful information here and something that really made me think. since my diagnose my life has greatly changed and lately drugs for sale were more of an interest for me than cars, which really used to be my greatest hobby.


I always hoped I would find an exercise I loved, but that never happened. All in all, I would rather sit and do nothing useful. However, I realize that I do need to exercise to be able to travel,manage my weight, and do what litle I can do. So, now I go for tolerating my exercise bike. I do have to admit, though,that I do enjoy the walks with my husband.


I tried to think of a witty comeback for people who criticize your bike and I came up with two. One is an offshoot of my daughter’s. It is “I can’t help being disabled but you can help being an asshole”. The other is “yes, this the bike issued to all myrderous psycopaths”. Just watch them ride quickly!


I do floor excercises twice a day. Walk my dog round the block twice a day. But although i’d love to walk more, my legs are really painful. Even walking round the supermarket, pushing a cart is painful.

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